Bill Russell, one of the greatest and most important athletes across all sports history, passed away at the age of 88 on Sunday. Naturally, the tributes came pouring in from the NBA community and beyond.
Russell won 11 NBA championships, including eight straight from 1959-66. The final two he won in 1968-69 while serving as the Celtics‘ starting center and head coach. His career numbers are breathtaking.
There’s almost no way to measure the impact Russell had not just on the sport, but society as a whole, during his career, and he continued that impact throughout his life as one of the most socially conscious and active athletes we’ve ever seen. As such, the great Magic Johnson has called for Russell’s No. 6 to be retired across the NBA.
It’s hard to argue with Magic’s assertion. Again, Russell’s impact was, and likely forever will be, unparalleled on and off the court. If there will never be another Bill Russell, why should anyone else wear the number? Major League Baseball retired No. 42 for Jackie Robinson. The NBA doing the same for Russell would be a just honor for a legendary man.
If the NBA were to get behind this idea, LeBron James, who currently wears No. 6 for the Lakers, might find himself in need of a new number. Or the league could grandfather in the current players who wear No. 6 but not allow anyone new to take on the number. This is what MLB did for players who wore Robinson’s No. 42. Mariano Rivera was one of 13 players allowed to keep wearing the number as he was with the Yankees when former commissioner Bud Selig introduced the idea on April 15, 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers.